That’s why star athletes and even the most accomplished musicians spend hours every day practicing. And very often, what they practice are the basic skills needed in their discipline.
What they are doing is building muscle memory by repeating the the actions so often that they are as automatic as breathing. They do it because they know they will lose their competitive edge if they don’t constantly hone their skills.
The same principle applies to learning a new language. In order to become truly fluent, you must use the language your learn as you learn it. From day one you should practice whenever you can, with whomever you can.
If you don’t, if you wait until you believe you have studies enough to use the language in public, you will take far too long to become fluent because you will forget the language you are not using every day.
One of the best language students I ever met is named Birgit. She absolutely LOVES learning new languages.
It is not at all uncommon for her to ask the servers at a Chinese or other specialty restaurant how to say things in their native tongue. She inquires about every possible subject. From how to order the soup, to how to say hello and goodbye.
More importantly, she USES it! The next time she goes to a Chinese restaurant, she greets them and orders the soup in their native tongue. While she’s there, she asks them for more words and phrases, that she uses on the spot. And adds them to what she says the next time she is in a Chinese restaurant.
I have to admit she puts me to shame in this regard. Like many adult learners, I’m hesitant to practice in public lest I make a mistake and look foolish. Consequently, my progress is slower than it could be because I lose what I learned by not using it.
I’m going to be trying to re-learn German once I’m back in Vienna. This time I’m going to follow Birgit’s example by trying to use what I learn as soon and as often as I can.
If you’re having the same problem I have had and truly wish to become fluent in the language you are studying, you too will do what Birgit does automatically: Forget about looking foolish and use the language you know as often as you can, with whomever you can.
If you are going shopping, review the language you’ve studied about shopping. Then use it with the shopkeeper and assistance.
If you’re going to use a taxi, review the language you’ve learned for giving addresses and directions, then use it with the taxi driver.
And keep on using it until it becomes as automatic as breathing.
Because if you don’t use it, you will lose it!